The Greatest Hits – Whitney Houston (Arista 2000)
UK Chart Position – 1
US Chart Position – 2
It had been two years since Whitney had re-established herself in pop charts and perhaps more importantly for her in R&B markets with her album “My Love Is Your Love”. It seemed a good time to produce a career retrospective which took in her four studio albums, her movie soundtracks together with a smattering of new tracks. It was a double CD release with one focusing on the ballads “Cool Down” and one on the dance tracks “Throw Down”. On its release in 2000 it topped the UK charts, got to number 2 in the US and following her untimely death in 2012 saw a huge surge in sales worldwide. Obviously there are compilations which take in the whole of her twenty-seven year career but in my opinion there was not a lot that was essential in the last twelve so this would be the one that I would opt for. This contains her eleven US number 1 and four UK number 1 singles.
It all kicks off with the track that really got the ball rolling for me. “Saving All My Love For You” was a very mature ballad written by Michael Masser and veteran song-writer Gerry Goffin and had previously been recorded by Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jnr (of “You Don’t Have To Be A Star” fame). It sounded like a release from someone who had been in the business for years and was at the top of her game- whereas it was the follow-up to her number 3 US debut single and became her first British hit. It also gave her a first Grammy for Best Female Vocal Performance in 1986 and is surely one of the greatest vocal performances of all time. It was a high point of the debut album “Whitney Houston” and is only eclipsed in terms of Whitney ballads, in my opinion, by the track that comes next. Staying with Michael Masser this time with lyricist Linda Creed “The Greatest Love Of All” was another song which had been tried and tested by another artist. Used in the film “The Greatest” a bio-pic of Muhammed Ali, George Benson had taken the song to US#24, UK#27 in 1977. Whilst Benson’s version is good, Whitney’s is blistering. The song itself is a little self-satisfied in its lyrics and needs a real talent to get away with “I believe that children are a future/Teach them well and let them lead the way”. It’s a song that lyrically I should not like but I do, the build-up is fantastic and this is one of the great power ballads of all time. Whitney’s version topped the chart in the US and reached number 8 in the UK in 1986.
I like this track better than two of Whitney’s other most celebrated number 1’s “One Moment In Time” is a ballad so big that it almost teeters over into parody. Written by Albert Hammond and John Bettis and produced by Narada Michael Walden who had done such good work on Whitney’s second album, it was unsurprisingly used as the theme for the 1988 Olympics which helped propel it to number 1 on both sides of the Atlantic. I also like “Greatest Love Of All” better than “I Will Always Love You”- Whitney’s most famous and biggest selling song from “The Bodyguard” and written, as everyone knows, by Dolly Parton. This to me has always felt more like a technical singing exercise than a song. I know I’m in the minority here as in the Telegraph’s recent list of the Top 40 Best Selling UK Singles of all time this track is at 23, which if you were around in late 1992/early 1993 when it had its 10 week run at the top of the charts seems quite lowly as it was , at the time, inescapable. It did even better business in the US staying on top for 14 weeks. In Billboard’s list of the Top 100 Biggest Singles of all time it can be found at number 51. Perhaps that is the problem, maybe I’ve just heard it too much. It could very well have been the point that Whitney fatigue began to set in as it was her last UK number one and there would only be one more in the US. The version on this CD does not have the ending most associated with this track, the big finish, which is a bit of a love it or hate it moment and the downfall of many a karaoke/tv talent show performance. I don’t love it but I miss its presence.
On this first CD and from Whitney’s debut album you get the aforementioned two US number 1’s together with her first US Top 3 single “You Give Good Love”together with “All At Once” a lovely Michael Masser produced and written (alongside Jeffrey Osborne of “On The Wings Of Love” fame) a non-single release which is one of Whitney’s best ever album tracks. From album number 2, another essential release, and reviewed here there’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and “Didn’t We Almost Have It All.” Whitney’s third album showed a real drop in quality as far as I was concerned but from this we get “All The Man That I Need”.
“The Bodyguard” soundtrack was a phenomenal success and on Billboard’s list of biggest selling US albums ever it is sitting pretty at number 23. Its sales were not totally fuelled by “I Will Always Love You” as it had two other scorching ballads amongst the Whitney tracks, “I Have Nothing” (US#4 UK#3) one of her most best-loved tracks and “Run To You” (which only reached the lowly position of 31 in the US but got to number 15 in the UK). Whitney’s final US number 1 “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” (UK#11 1995) is far more R&B influenced than a lot of the power ballads. Of the later tracks the best is “I Learned From The Best” a strong Diane Warren song that didn’t really stand out on the “My Love Is Your Love” album, but seemed to come into its own as a single and is one of her more recent tracks that seems to have best stood the test of time (US#27,UK#19-2000)
Whitney and Enrique smouldering
There’s a number of collaborations spread over the two albums- but some are notable by their absence. There’s no “Something In Common” (UK#16-1994)which paired Whitney with husband Bobby Brown and no “It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Ever Gonna Be” (UK#29-1989) with the superstar she called “Aunt Re”, Aretha Franklin, nor is there the best Whitney duet, with mum Cissy, “I Know Him So Well” found on the “Whitney” album. The album’s compilers have also decided to do away with the sing-off that is “When You Believe” (US#15, UK#4-1998) from the animated movie “Prince Of Egypt” in a vocal battle with Mariah Carey that didn’t quite get up to the ultimate singing contest standard between Streisand and Summer in with “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough). These omissions were probably to make way for the number of new tracks which are collaborations. We do get an early quite throwaway ballad sung with Jermaine Jackson, her very pretty duet with Ce Ce Winans “Count On Me”(US#8,UK#12-1996) from the “Waiting To Exhale” Soundtrack, “Heartbreak Hotel” with Faith Evans and Kelly Price (not an essential track) (US#2, UK#25-2000) and amongst the three new tracks duets with Deborah Cox, George Michael(UK#9-2000) and Enrique Iglesias(UK#7-2000), the latter being the best of the three because Whitney threw herself into the Latin sound of Iglesias rather than the uneasy R&B hybrid of the other two new collaborations. Interestingly, in the US none of the new songs from this album released as singles set the charts alight (out of four releases the biggest was the Enrique duet which limped to number 52).
Chaka & Whitney – they’re every woman
The “Throw Down” CD begins with some of the newer material rather than hitting us with the biggest hits. For me the best of the danceable Houston tracks are those taken from the “Whitney” CD, including my all-time favourite of her singles “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (US#1,UK#1-1987). Although I think this CD pales significantly compared to the “Cool Down” you do also get “How Will I Know”) (US#1, UK-5-1986) from the debut, the rocking “Queen Of The Night” (UK#14-1993)from “The Bodyguard” and Whitney’s version of “I’m Every Woman” (US#4, UK#4-1993) with its affectionate nod to the original performed by the equally legendary Chaka Khan. There is a feeling that the “Throw Down” concept ran out of ideas a little as we get no fewer than four remixes including “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” (US#4, UK#3-1999)and “I’m Your Baby Tonight” (US#1,UK#5-1990) which both appear earlier on the same CD and I’m not sure how essential club mixes of the ballad tracks “Greatest Love Of All” and “I Will Always Love You” are. At least they have not gone with “My Name Is Not Susan” (US#20, UK#29) a disastrous track which actually turned me off Whitney Houston for quite a little while.
This album spent 90 weeks in the UK chart and reached the summit and would be the last of her albums to do this. How we all willed Whitney to make the comeback we hoped she would, tried to turn a blind eye to lacklustre performances, I’m thinking “X Factor” when she became highly distracted and ultimately thwarted by a minor wardrobe malfunction, because we knew, that even though the voice had deteriorated that she had the talent to make it back to the top again. I don’t want to remember Whitney for the miserable end (that has also ended tragically for the next generation with Bobbi Christina’s early death which mirrored her mother’s) I want to remember her for the joy she brought me and countless millions through her music, superbly represented by these 35 tracks. I don’t think she ever looked more radiant and beautiful than in the video for “The Greatest Love Of All” which also features mum Cissy.
“The Greatest Hits ” is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £8.o8 ,used from £1.48 and as a download for £8.39. In the US it can be purchased for $13.75, used from $0.01 and as a download for $14.99.